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29th September 2016, 1:26pm
New research to offer blueprint for oral drug delivery
New research to offer blueprint for oral drug delivery Scientists are working to develop a blueprint for a new generation of nanomedicines that could soon make it possible for patients to take medicines such as insulin orally rather than via injections.

The intention of the pioneering new research at the University of Lincoln, UK, is to design drug carriers that enable or improve oral delivery of drugs that currently require injections, dramatically improving the experience of patients who take them long-term.

Funded by a First Grant of more than £100,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project will be led by Dr Driton Vllasaliu – a specialist in drug delivery and nanomedicine from the Lincoln’s School of Pharmacy.

Dr Vllasaliu explained: “We know that patients prefer to take drugs orally, and new drug compounds are almost always aimed for oral delivery. Unfortunately, many drugs cannot be taken this way because they either get broken down in the stomach, or suffer from poor solubility and absorption into the bloodstream. This is especially the case with drugs based on proteins, such as insulin. Such ‘difficult’ drugs are usually given by injections, but these are associated with decreased patient acceptability and compliance, as well as pain, high costs and risks.”

The use of carriers that encapsulate the drug, protecting it from degradation in the stomach and increasing its absorption through the gut wall, has been suggested before as a possible way of enabling oral delivery of these non-absorbable drugs. However, currently these carriers do not easily cross the gut wall (the epithelium), which consists of a layer of closely packed and interconnected cells. These cells are designed to form a formidable biological barrier, preventing movement of the carrier from the gut into the bloodstream.

Dr Vllasaliu’s new research aims to establish a design blueprint for the engineering of drug carriers that can readily cross this intestinal wall, carrying the medication into the bloodstream, and therefore enabling oral drug delivery. These new drug carriers will be based on designs comprised of minute particles with diameters equivalent to 1/1000th of the thickness of a human hair – called nanoparticles.

The new research represents a continuation of Dr Vllasaliu’s previous work in this field, with earlier studies identifying a number of key technological advances that will underpin the study.

The EPSRC grant funding will also support a new Post-doctoral Research Assistant position, who will work with Dr Vllasaliu to develop the new drug carrier systems.

Dr Vllasaliu said: “Central to this new project is the rational design and manufacture of nanoparticle drug carriers – or nanomedicines - that are able to cross the gut epithelium. We will first create a number of compounds with the ability to move across the intestinal wall, and we will then attach these 'transport enabling compounds' to the surface of nanoparticle carriers. The resulting systems will be tested extensively in a gut model based on cells grown in the lab. This testing will allow us to identify the most effective system and will lead to our design blueprint for nanomedicines for oral delivery.

“The ultimate aim of the project is to develop safer medicines that patients are more likely to take, and I hope that this will translate into benefits for both patients and healthcare providers.”

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